February 28 2016

Trump does not get the Gospel

trump get gospel

Recently the Pope made a statement that implied that Donald Trump was not a Christian. He pointed to Trump’s plan to build a wall between the US and Mexico and said “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that.”

Trump responded with this statement: “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian… No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

Firstly, I want to say that Trump is completely wrong in regard to the right of a religious leader to question another man’s religion. In fact, the apostle Paul would say that that is one of the responsibilities of a religious leader. Consider Paul’s instruction to his trainee-minister, Titus: “[An elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.” (Titus 1:9-11) Paul even models this in his public rebuke of Peter which he mentions in Galatians 2:11-14, when Peter was clearly “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel”.

Jesus himself also warns us to watch out both for false believers and for the fact that we might be a false believer ourselves. In Matthew 7:13-23 Jesus says:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Now, we have to be careful not be too quick to judge someone as a false believer. Jesus even warns his followers to have this caution in Mark 9:38-41. But in order for us to clearly proclaim and protect the gospel message, we need to be able to call a spade a spade. When someone has no understanding of the Christian gospel or shows no fruit that should accompany someone who claims to be a Christian (see Galatians 5:16-23), then we should feel free to suggest that that person is not a Christian.

Now, there may be many, many reasons for someone to consider that Donald Trump is not a genuine Christian. You could point to his unrepentant boasting about his various extramarital affairs, or his sexistracist and ableist comments, or his foul language, or his commitment to bring back the practise of water-boarding and worse, or his threats of violence against those that oppose him, or his general arrogance and ego. These examples show that the fruit of a life shaped by the Spirit of God – namely love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – are severely lacking in Trump, and might be considered enough to conclude that he wasn’t actually a Christ-follower. As Jesus said, By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:20).

Now, you have to be careful judging the reality of someone’s conversion based on the fruit you see. We are all flawed works-in-progress. Someone may be a genuine follower of Christ and still have a lot of bad fruit that God is working on over time. The example I mentioned before where Paul publicly rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11-14) was an example of one Christian rebuking another Christian. Paul accused Peter of “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel”. The problem with Trump though is not that he isn’t acting in line with the gospel, it’s that he doesn’t even know the gospel in the first place.

TWO CRITERIA TO BE A CHRISTIAN 

When Jesus called people to follow him right at the beginning of his ministry he said, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the gospel!” In order to be a Christian (a Christ-person) Jesus commands two things: “Repent” and “believe the gospel”. This message is echoed later in Jesus ministry when he explains what the heart of his message is: It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) and after Jesus was resurrected this call to “repent and believe” was carried on by his followers, as can be seen in Acts 20:21, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”

Turning to God in repentance for our sin and believing in the good news about Jesus for our forgiveness is the simple requirement for the salvation that God offers. If you have not done this, then you are not a Christian and you can not claim that name. If you do not show evidence of having done this, then other people are right to (as Trump puts it) question your faith and religion.

The gospel message is the thing God uses to bring people into his kingdom. As Paul writes in Romans 1:16, “the gospel…is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes”. Because of this, it is important that we are clear about the gospel, it is important that we defend the gospel and it is important that we protect the gospel from being corrupted over time. One of the ways to do this is to not be afraid to call someone out for not having the right to call themselves a Christian – either due to their lack of “repenting and believing” or due to their lack of the fruit that should accompany it.

As I mentioned about, it is easy to see that Trump is lacking in the fruit, but I think the thing that makes it even clearer that he is not a Christian, is the fact that he has not “repented and believed”. This video clip makes that abundantly clear.

Trump is asked the most basic of questions that a Christian should be able to answer without hesitation: “Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?”

Trump first tries to avoid the question, talking non-stop for a full minute trying to win the crowd by name-dropping his minister. When he is forced to confront the question he stumbles over his answer saying: “I’m not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t… I don’t think in terms of that. I think in terms of let’s go on and let’s make it right.”

Not long after this interview, Trump was questioned about his answer and his understanding of Christianity on CNN.

Interviewer Anderson Cooper asked Trump: “The idea of repentance. Is that something that’s important to you?”

Trump answered: “I think repenting is terrific.”

Cooper: “But do you feel a need to? As part of forgiveness.”

Trump: “If I make a mistake then yeah, then I think it’s great, but I try not to make mistakes. I mean, why do I have to, you know, repent? Why do I have to ask for forgiveness if you’re not making mistakes? I work hard. I’m an honorable person. I have thousands of people who work for me. I’ve employed tens of thousands of people over the years.”

Cooper: “You give millions to charity.”

Trump: “I give millions. I built the Vietnam Memorial in Lower Manhattan, with a small group of people!”


JESUS CAME FOR THE SICK

As has been often pointed out by Christian commentators, if you do not see the bad news of our sin and need for forgiveness, then you will never see the good news of Jesus’ offer to die for your sin and provide you that forgiveness. It’s like chemo. You’ll never go do it if you don’t realise you have cancer.

In Luke 5:30-32, the Pharisees ask Jesus, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answers, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus describes himself as a doctor, and if you don’t know you’re sick, you won’t go to him. Jesus has come for sinners, not those who think they are “righteous”.

Trump falls into the exact same problem the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day. When asked about whether he has asked God for forgiveness, Trump says “I don’t think so”. When asked about what he thinks about repentance, Trump says “Why do I have to repent?”. Trump does acknowledge that he may have made some mistakes, but that doesn’t drive him to his needs before God. In fact he says, “If I do something wrong I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture.”

In his mind, Trump is his own saviour. And if asked about whether he feels a need to repent, he will point out all his good works – working hard, being honorable, employing people, giving to charity and building stuff. I don’t know about you, but that reminds me of a parable Jesus once told that seems quite appropriate. It’s found in Luke 18:9-14. Have a read and see who the Pharisee in the parable sounds like.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

WE ARE LIKE TRUMP

Now, this article may sound like I am just having fun dumping on Trump. That’s actually not my goal at all. In fact it would be hypocritical for me to quote the parable above and then just say, “God, I thank you that I am not like Donald Trump!” The fact is that although Trump needs forgiveness and needs to repent, we are no better than him. The point of the parable that Jesus told was that we should not base our understanding of our own goodness by comparing ourselves to others. We should be like the Tax Collector. The Tax Collector was actually a worse sinner than the Pharisee, but he did something that meant that he went home right with God – he acknowledged his sin and he asked for mercy. In Jesus’ words, he “humbled” himself before God. That is something we all need to do, and if you are standing next to Trump on the day of Judgment, you can’t point to him and say, “At least I was better than him.” No. We are like Trump. We all need forgiveness. We all need to repent. We all need Jesus. We are all in the same boat.

My aim in writing this article is not to get you to hate Trump. It’s not to get my American friends to not vote for him (though most of them are more anti-Trump than I am). My aim in writing this is twofold. Firstly, in order to defend the integrity of the true Christian gospel I feel it is important to say that Trump does not get it. It is important that I point to an example like Trump and say, despite the fact that he calls himself a Christian, he is not one. There is only one gospel. And as R.C. Sproul said at the Ligonier National Conference just yesterday, “Whatever else we do with the gospel, we must never, ever, ever mess with it.”

But secondly, we must make sure that we do not fall into the same trap. We must make sure that we understand the gospel clearly and that we have responded to it in the way that Jesus commands. Those that call themselves by the name “Christian” must be open to that sort of self-scrutiny and self-reflection. We can not presume that just because we call ourselves a “Christian” that we are one. And if someone questions our genuineness as a Christian, we need to not react like Trump did to the Pope. We need to give people the right to ask those questions and we need to ask those questions of ourselves. We need search our hearts and the Scripture to allow God to convict us and call us to repent and believe. We need to take Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21-23 seriously:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Sadly, I believe there a millions of people who, like Trump, would tick the “Christian” box on the census form and yet do not know the gospel and have never responded to it. Millions of people who expect to meet God as a friend when they die, and yet will meet him as a stranger. It is a harrowing and sobering thought.

The best we can do is make sure that we know the gospel ourselves and make it known as best we can.

 

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February 20 2016

Sometimes God makes my life boring

boring

 

Last Thursday, on my way home from work, my car’s front right tire exploded while I was driving at 100km/h on the Western Ring Road Freeway.

What happened next was intense and traumatic and I’m lucky to be alive…

 


 

As you can imagine, without one of my front tires I could barely keep control of my car. I could hear the loud flap of the torn up rubber and the scrape of the metal rim as my little Mazda 2 veered violently to the right, almost going into the lane next to me. I was in the middle lane of the freeway and the traffic was very busy with lots of trucks and other commuters on every side.

As I was travelling at 100km/h I knew I had to slow down, but the car behind mustn’t have been paying attention, because as I steadily applied the break they kept zooming ahead and they knocked the back of me. It was a fairly violent nudge and it forced my car off to the right, where I scraped into the side of the van in the next lane. It all happened very fast after that.

freeway2The van veered off to try to avoid me and crashed into the short concrete wall separating the freeway, this cause a pile up of cars behind it as they all tried to screech to a holt. Meanwhile, the car behind me still hadn’t stopped and pushed my car into a spin. I was terrified and I can remember screaming and thinking that I was truly going to die and how horrible that would be. Several other cars then plowed into mine as I spun, pushing me further across the freeway and into the lane of an oncoming truck. The last thing I heard was the deafening hiss of the truck’s airbreaks as the driver desperately tried to avoid me.

Unfortunately, it was going too fast. The truck rammed into the nose of my small hatchback causing me to flip several times. My airbags went off and the the next few moments were a chaotic mess of broken glass and crunching metal and being tossed around like a rag doll, all the while knowing for sure that at the unjust age of 38, the great fearful blackness of death was about to swallow me at any second.

It is only by the grace of God’s miraculous hand that I escaped death and am hear to tell you the tale. My car was totaled, I have a few broken bones, but after a couple of nights in hospital it looks like I will pull through. I may not walk for a few months and they had to amputate my right arm, but this experience has left me more appreciative of life and more confident that God can see me through anything…

 


 

Now that would have been an exciting near-death experience story for me to be able to tell you, except for the fact that… none of that actually happened.

 

Well, the first sentence is true. My tire did explode while I was driving at 100km/h on the freeway last Thursday, but God had orchestrated things so it turned out a little differently.

 

Firstly, God ensured that when my tire blew, I was in the left most lane so it was fairly easy for me to quickly turn into the emergency lane and out of harms way. God also probably helped the car stabilize in that process as I didn’t find it too hard to control even though I was driving on the metal rim and travelling at a high speed. God made sure that there were no cars right behind me as well, so slowing down didn’t cause any problems.

After that, it was pretty boring really. I called Cat and she called her brother Phil, who’s handy with all things practical (unlike me, with my uncalloused graphic designer hands). God had made sure Phil was available and, in a longer term sense, had shaped Phil’s godly character into an “always willing to help when needed” sort of dude. Phil dropped whatever he was doing and found me on the freeway. He quickly replaced the tire with my spare, using his cool drill attachments to undo the nuts on the wheel, making me feel like I was in the company of a Formula 1 pit-crew.

After the tire was replaced, I jumped back in the car and guess what? The battery was flat! Crazy huh? We contemplated getting some roadside service, but it was going to cost us a bit so we thought we’d first try to give the car a push start to see it that could start the engine that way. By God’s kindness, it did, and both Phil & I were able to get to get on our way and attend the ministry meeting at our church that we had on that night. In about one hour exactly, I had gone from an exploding tire to on my merry way. I guess God wanted me at that meeting. Or maybe he wanted Cat there, as if I had really been in a major crash, I doubt she would have attended the meeting either.

When my tire exploded, I was naturally surprised and a little anxious as I got out of traffic, but I was never terrified like I described in my exciting made up story. I didn’t scream thinking that I was truly going to die and how horrible that would be. In fact, I am very much at peace about dying. To be honest, I look forward to the joy of seeing Christ face to face. Now, I don’t look forward to the actual process of dying and I’m sure if that horrible crash had actually happened I might have been screaming as I awaited the painful end. But I wouldn’t be thinking “that at the unjust age of 38, the great fearful blackness of death was about to swallow me at any second.” It wouldn’t be unjust for me to die at 38 or 68 or 18 or even 8 months (the age of my daughter). The bible says the God is the one who “gives everyone life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25). This life I live is a gift from God. I do not own it. I do not have rights over it. It is God’s and he will take it back when he pleases.

And when he does, even if I’m scared of the actual thing that will kill me – be it cancer, a heart attack or a freeway pile-up – I hope I can remember the apostle Paul’s wonderful words in Philippians 1:20-23…

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”

In fact, in that moment, just after the exploding tire as I waited for Phil to arrive, I posted on Facebook a few photos of my tire along with this status update: “One of my tires exploded while driving on the freeway. Ah, to live is Christ…”

 

God protected me last Thursday. The fact that my actual story is not as dramatic and exciting as the one I made up is actually a miracle. My boring true story is a sign of God’s kindness and sovereignty and ability to control events like tires and freeway lanes and everything else.

Now, I don’t believe in a prosperity gospel that thinks that God is only looking after me when good things happen (you can see my thoughts on God’s sovereignty in suffering here). I have had my share of pain and tragedy, and yet I can still say with confidence that God is kind and loving and in control. As the bible says, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). All things means all things. God will look after those in Christ through all things like sickness, divorce, near-death experiences and even death itself.

I don’t expect God to provide me a life of comfort, free from pain or strife. In fact, I expect drama and tragedy and suffering. Though quite often (and probably a lot more than I know), for his own mysterious purposes, even when I might like to have an exciting story to tell… sometimes God makes my life boring.

 

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January 19 2016

Mercy, baby rapists & the cross

WHAT IS MERCY

This is a public Facebook conversation I had recently with someone. I haven’t ever posted a conversation before, but the questions they asked me were so profound, genuine and clear, I was encouraged by the opportunity it gave me to try to explain the gospel. Even though the conversation was public, for the sake of privacy, I will simply put my Facebook friend’s comments in bold. No comments have been edited. Also, for context, this conversation starts in the middle of a bigger conversation about theology and the nature of God.

 

Mercy, baby rapists & the cross – a Facebook conversation

 

  • What is mercy?

 

  • Mercy is the withholding of judgement.
    Grace is related but different. Grace is the giving of an undeserved gift.
    So if a young criminal was told by a judge, “You are guilty, but I will not punish you.” that is mercy. But if he went on to say, “And I will personally pay for you to get an education.” That would be grace.

 

  • So, it’s very much connected to kindness in place of punishment?
    Why is judgement so important?

 

  • Judgement (and I’m obviously speaking from a biblical Christian perspective here) is so important because God is holy and good and as much as he is 100% committed to good he is 100% opposed to evil. Judgement is the expression of this holy commitment.
    Judgment is not opposed to kindness. In fact, it is unkind for God to be apathetic about evil.The Christian message is not that God ignores judgement for evil, but that he bears it and takes it on himself in our place. And so in the one act, the judgment of God and the mercy of God is displayed.

 

  • Isn’t all I am comprised of, including all potential, made by God?

 

  • Your entire body is made by God, but how you choose to use that body is your responsibility.

 

  • Can God prevent evil?

 

  • If God created us, then it stands to reason that his power is greater than us.
    Are you wondering, if God is good and he is able to prevent evil, why doesn’t he do it?

 

  • Yeah. Why let babies be raped, etc. Why invent evil?

 

  • Those are two different questions.
    God didn’t invent evil. We, as people in opposition to God’s command to love, invented ways (like rape) to defy God and live for ourselves.As for why doesn’t God prevent our evil – that is a great question and one that the biblical writers asked often: “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” (Job 21:7)The answer the bible most often gives is that God is not ignorant of evil and there will be a Day of Judgement where all will be put right.The question is dangerous though. If we start asking why doesn’t God simply destroy all baby rapists, we may eventually have to ask why God doesn’t also destroy us for our evil acts?

 

  • Rather, I’m wondering why he allows it.

 

  • I have wondered that myself. And not in some philosophical thought-exercise way. I particularly grappled with it during my separation and divorce. I believe in a God that can do anything, which means he can cause or prevent anything he wills to. And yet horrible things happen.I think ultimately it is an unanswered question, though I do rest in a few truths that I am confident in:

    1. God sees all. No suffering or evil or good goes unnoticed.

    2. God is wiser than me. He knows all ends and what is the best way this world should be dealt with.3. God came to earth in Jesus, took on flesh and felt our experience of suffering. His compassion and empathy is not theoretical.

    4. Jesus showed that God is ultimately a God of love for everyone, including those that do evil like you and I. He died in our place, making forgiveness and reconciliation possible, and for me, ending the question about whether or not God really loves us.

    5. Jesus will return to judge all and no evil act will be ignored and no injustice will not be addressed and put right.

    6. In God there is true joy. Life is not about having a happy marriage or a healthy body, or even, not ever enduring violence. Life is about knowing and enjoying our Creator, and that is a joy that is for all and it is a joy that surpasses all other griefs.

 

  • 4. I have never understood the idea of Christ dying in our place. Or how that made forgiveness or anything possible. I cannot see any sense in this. Why died for my sins?

 

  • To answer your question about why Jesus needed to die for your sins and how that makes forgiveness possible, I’ll try to give a simplistic answer and then flesh it out as you feel needs be…The “good news” that Christianity proposes is an answer to a particular “bad news”. This is that, although we are meant to love God with everything and love our neighbour as ourself, we don’t do that. We’d rather live our own way, we’d rather trust in our own authority, we’d rather love ourselves and live for ourselves. Basically, we’d rather not treat God as God. This is what Christianity calls “sin”. It’s not just doing naughty things, it’s a personal rejection of God as God.

    God is the source of life and light and so, turning away from him brings the consequences of death and darkness (whether we intend this or not). To say God is “light” (or the Christian term “holy”) is to say that God is 100% committed to all that is right and good and just. This also means that God is 100% opposed to sin and evil and darkness. Our sin severs the harmonious relationship we should have with our Creator and puts us under his just judgment and condemnation.

    There is nothing we can do to win God’s favour back. We can’t buy him off with a bunch of flowers or our weak attempts at being good. Any good deeds that we do is simply good that we should have been doing in the first place, and so they don’t earn us anything.

    If you think I’m not getting this from the bible, then here’s a couple of verses to back it up:
    “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

    So, the bad news is that we are all sinners to various degrees and that puts us under the punishment of death, experiencing separation from God both now and forever. And the really bad news is there’s nothing in our own strength that we can do to save ourselves.

    Fortunately, Jesus came to bring the good news. The good news is that God was not content to leave us without hope. He came and took on humanity in the person Jesus, lived the perfect life we could not live and then died the death that we deserved. Jesus described his death as a “ransom” (Mark 10:45). It was a payment to enable us to be freed from the judgement that we are under. The death Jesus died was no ordinary death. It was the death that we should have died as the punishment for our sin. God’s hatred for sin and all his condemnation and judgment was taken by Jesus on the cross. It’s like a judge who condemns you to death for your crimes and then steps down from his seat, and says that he will go to the electric chair instead of you.

    The way Peter (Jesus’ closest friend and a key leader in early Christianity) puts it is: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 1:24).The call now to us is not to clean ourselves up for God. It’s not to try to be good to get to heaven. Naturally, we must turn away from our commitment to sin and turn back to treating God as God, but what makes our reconciliation with God possible, is what God has done in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The call is to turn to and trust in Jesus.

    That is how Jesus’ death makes it possible for us to be forgiven. It pays the debt that we owe. It removes the barrier between us and God. It satisfies our holy God’s requirement for justice and for those who trust in Jesus, it leaves no more judgment or condemnation left for us to face. The result is that we are restored to friendship with God and we live in right relationship with him, in light and life, both now and forever – not based on any good works we have done, but based solely on his good work for us in Jesus’ death.

    Now that may have seemed like a very long-winded answer. Sorry about that! Believe me, there is lots more I could have said. This is a fascinating and personally exciting topic for me, as I don’t simply believe it to be theoretically true. I have personally experienced this reconciliation myself, and have enjoyed a restored relationship with God for over 20 years now! Although I know this “good news” about Jesus’ death can seem weird or even nonsensical to some, and I have questions about how it all works, but I believe it to be true because I know that it does work and have found it to be true.

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November 15 2015

A Radical Reflection

peace

 

If Islam is a religion of peace, then ISIS shouldn’t be described as “radical” or “extremist” muslims. They should be described as non-muslims. If Islam is a religion of peace, then people should in fact be saying that we need more radical and extreme muslims.

What gets held up as the ideal is those that are called “moderate muslims”. Think about that. The implication is that you have to moderate Islam to make it a positive thing.

When it comes to Christianity, no one should want to be a “moderate Christian”. Genuine Christianity is radical and extreme. A radical Christian is one that takes the words and message of Jesus seriously. An extremist Christian is one that takes the love, mercy and grace of Jesus to extreme lengths – loving their neighbour, being generous, offering forgiveness and praying for their enemies.

If you saw a group of people who called themselves “Christians” but went around raping little girls and beheading people of other religions, you wouldn’t say they are a “radical Christian”. You wouldn’t say they are an “extreme Christian”. You’d say they weren’t a Christian.

When it comes to being a Jesus follower, we don’t need to be wary of “radicalisation”. What’s the alternative? Nominalism? Apathy? Our society and indeed the Christian church is way too full of that already.

Christians need to be a lot more extreme, a lot more radical. And if muslims around the world want people to take their claims that “Islam is a religion of peace” seriously, then they need to get more radical and extreme as well.

Their efforts to denounce, defund, expose, re-educate and stamp out the increasingly active streams of Islam like ISIS, needs to be a lot more than simply “moderate”.

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August 8 2015

9 things I like about Credobaptism (as a pedobaptist)

Bapt-img1

One of the things I am convinced about in the credo/pedobaptist debate is that neither side is clear cut. As R.C. Sproul stated in his debate with John Macarthur on this topic:

“In the absence of explicit teaching, both sides in this controversy are forced to rely upon inferences drawn from what IS explicit in Scripture, and that should – by the very virtue of that fact – force us to go the second mile in patience with one another when we recognise I can not prove to John Macarthur that Scripture commands the baptism of infants and by not baptising infants he is being disobedient to his Lord, and at the same time, he can’t point to a text in the bible that explicitly prohibits infant baptism and say to you ‘R.C. you have to stop doing what Scripture prohibits’. I think we all understand the absence of the explicit directives in either case, and since we are both relying upon inferences, we have to be exceedingly patient and charitable with each other.”

After a lot of time, reading, reflection, prayer and discussion, I think I agree with R.C. Sproul, both on his position that infant baptism is ok, but also on his position that both sides have good arguments. Because of these arguments, I have flipped and flopped on this issue for years, and if you have done your own thinking on this issue and have come out a credobaptist, I wouldn’t blame you for it. My best friend since childhood, Daniel Farrugia has a similar spiritual journey to me. We were both brought up in the Catholic Church and were baptised as infants, we both responded to the gospel in our teens and we both have continued to grow in our faith and become passionate followers of Christ and active members of our respective churches. Daniel ended up in a Baptist church and is settled as a credobaptist, and I ended up in a Presbyterian church and am settled as a pedobaptist. I’m not sure if there is any “chicken and the egg” thing happening there with the denomination and the position, but in any case, we both love the gospel and yet will make different choices in regard to whether we baptise our kids.

In the vein of generosity that R.C. was encouraging, I thought I would list the 8 things that have at different times convinced me of the credobaptist position. These are things that I really, really like about credobaptism. Even though I have come down off the fence as a pedobaptist, I have not come down as a militant one. I admit I could be wrong. And the following are the points that mean I will always respect and even defend credobaptism as a valid position to take. They haven’t been enough to convince me, but if they convince you, I would not hold it against you.


9 things I really, really like about the credobaptist position (even though I am ok with infant baptism)
:

1. SIMPLICITY
It’s simple. It tries to just read the text as it stands and obey it sincerely. The argument goes like this: “Peter said, repent and be baptised and you will receive…” (Acts 2:38). That’s the order, why mess with it? It’s not a very deep or sophisticated argument, but that to me is actually its strength. Some pedobaptists can argue in a way that makes you feel like you need a Masters of Divinity specialising in covenantal theology before you can wrap your head around their position. The best of the credobaptist arguments are the simplest. Infant baptism isn’t taught, so let’s not do it. Repent and be baptised is taught, so let’s do that. I really like that simplicity.

2. CENSUS
It aims to ensure that no one can call themselves a Christian falsely. Nominal and cultural Christianity are a really big issue. There are millions of people around the world that would tick “Christian” on the census form and yet when they meet Jesus one day, they will say, “Lord, Lord” but he will say, “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23). Part of the problem is that we are too quick to call someone a “Christian” simply because they assume that title. I think wanting it to be clear who is and isn’t a Christian is a good thing and purifying our churches from “census” Christians is a noble goal. Credobaptism aims to only baptise those who have consciously and publicly agreed to and embraced the gospel, and this comes from a godly desire to protect individuals, the church community, and the reputation of the gospel itself. I admire and agree with those goals.

3. EVANGELISM
It’s evangelistic. Everyone, including the children brought up by believing parents, is called to repent and put their trust in Christ. The call goes out to all and everyone is expected to respond individually. This tries to avoid any feelings of privilege that someone may feel because they grew up in a Christian household. John the Baptist addresses a similar issue with the Jews who were coming out to be baptised: Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” (Luke 3:8). John didn’t allow them to rest on the fact that they were brought up with a certain faith. They had to repent and respond, just like everyone else. Many credobaptists have the same fiery, evangelistic drive as they encourage their kids, when they’re ready, to respond to the gospel with, repentance, faith, a public profession and with baptism. I like that fieriness.

4. EXPERIENCE
It creates a memorable experience for every Christian. This point sounds silly, but it used to be one of the biggest reasons why I agreed with credobaptism for a long time. Think about it, there aren’t many “once off” rituals in the bible. In the Old Testament, the sacrifices were done every day. In the New Testament, the Lord’s Supper is done whenever Christians gathered. These rituals kids could watch and grow to understand over time. But there are some rituals that happen once. Circumcision and baptism are examples of this. Now, pedobaptists often compare these two rituals to show how it is ok that they are performed on children, but baptism has a significant disadvantage. With circumcision, the Jewish guy could look down every morning and be reminded that he was circumcised. With baptism, the experience comes and then goes, with no ongoing objective reminder that it has taken place. The feeling of the water washing over your body as a reminder of your sins being washed away is only ongoing if it can be remembered. Nowadays, pedobaptists can solve that problem by recording infant baptisms so that they can be watched later, but that seems a poor comparison to actually being able to remember the experience personally. Like having a cut foreskin, or killing a lamb, or eating bread and drinking wine, baptism is a very physically tactile experience. It seems like the nature of the ritual of baptism lends itself to being performed on those that can remember it. Of course, this is more of a practical argument than a biblical one, but it’s still pretty impressive to me.

5. PAUL
It makes reading Paul writings about baptism easier. When Paul writes, “For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27), and “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4), he makes strong connections between his audience’s baptism and their salvation. Pedobaptists would point out that this is because he was writing to first generation Christians who were baptised at the moment of their conversion and so that connection is appropriate, and that if he was writing a few decades later, he might have written differently with a more mixed audience. Whether or not that is true, it still remains difficult for pedobaptists who are raising their kids to read the Scriptures. What will I say to my daughter when she reads Paul making such a connection between baptism and salvation? When she reads that “all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death” how is that true for her? Do I think her infant baptism saves her? Not at all! So how should she read those passages? Now, I’m not saying that there is no answer to these questions. I just like how credobaptism seems to avoid having to answer them.

6. HERESY
It aims to avoid the heresy of baptismal regeneration. Baptismal regeneration is the teaching that the act of baptism is a holy sacrament that actually saves the person who it is performed on. The Catholic Church holds this view, teaching: “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.” (Catholic Catechism). This is, pure and simple, a very unbiblical lie and it is one of the biggest heresies that the Catholic Church teaches. Unfortunately, when the general non-Christian world thinks of infant baptism, they generally think of the Catholic understanding of it. For example, there is a presumption amongst some of my work colleagues that my wife & I are getting our daughter baptised as a sort of spiritual insurance policy. That is not the case. I do not think there is anything magical or special about the water of baptism. It is not blessed and the act of getting wet by it will not make one bit of spiritual difference by itself. Of course, I believe that about any adult baptisms as well. The only thing that saves a person is the atoning sacrifice of Christ which is applied to a person when they respond to it in faith. At my daughter’s baptism, I’m sure my minister will go to lengths to explain this so that no one will presume that we believe in the false teaching of baptismal regeneration. The very fact that we have to do that though, is sad and annoying. Now, there are those who believe baptismal regeneration in the credobaptist camp, but by strongly linking baptism with a profession of faith, most credobaptist churches try to avoid anyone being able to make this presumption.

7. DON CARSON
Some of my favourite US preachers are credobaptists. Now this may seem like a silly argument, but hey, we’re getting to the end of the list! I have a great admiration for the passion of John Piper and the sharp teaching of Matt Chandler and the brilliant scholarship of Don Carson, and they are all credobaptists. Now, I don’t want to give in to idol worship, but that’s impressive to me. Especially Don Carson, who many would agree, is one of the greatest biblical scholars in the world. The problem is, there are also heaps of awesome Christian teachers, like R.C Sproul and Tim Keller and even my own minister, Neil Chambers, who have also done their homework and have reached a pedobaptist position. I guess this argument doesn’t convince me either way, but it does give me a sense of humility and generosity when it comes to this debate and engaging with people on either side of it.

8. COOL
There is a part of me that wishes I had been encouraged to get baptised when I became a Christian at aged 16. Unlike every Christian, I do have a clear moment when the scales fell from my eyes and God opened my heart to the gospel and I also have a clear moment when I repented and responded to Christ and the difference for me before and after that moment was as dramatic as night and day. It would have been very cool to have an experience like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:36 who said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptised?”. Or it would have been cool to have a big event at church or down at the beach where I shared my testimony and invited all my friends along. In the end, after about 7 years of being a Christian, my minister allowed me to choose whether I wanted to get baptised or whether I wanted to embrace my infant baptism. I decided the latter. Although, I know my infant baptism was done in the Catholic Church and so was probably surrounded by false teachings about baptismal regeneration, that simple ritual has a symbol that is far greater than the understanding of the people who were present. The baptism symbolised the washing off of my sins, which, in God’s sovereignty and mercy to me, became a reality in my life 16 years later. So, I am very happy to say that I was baptised as an infant, because it powerfully points to God’s amazing work in my life. Having said that, an adult baptism at the beach would have been cool.

9. IN COMMON
Credobaptists generally have a love for the bible and the message of the gospel of Christ. Credobaptist churches have their problems, and some of those problems are due to their position on baptism, but pedobaptist churches have their problems based on their position on baptism as well. The key I think, is to look at which churches are being faithful to the bible, which churches are loving, which churches are gospel-focussed and which churches are concerned with the things that God is concerned with. When I have that criteria, I find both credobaptist and pedobaptist churches. I’m not saying this debate is not important. It is, and every Christian should think about it and come to some position of conviction (if only when they have their own children and then have to decide), but even though it is important, it is not of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). The bible is very clear on many issues, but the fact is, the bible is not clear on this issue. At least not explicitly clear. So, as R.C Sproul says, since we are both relying upon inferences, we have to be exceedingly patient and charitable with each other.” Both sides have their strengths and dangers, and we should encourage each other to build on the strengths and be wary of the dangers. Many credobaptists are godly, gospel-focussed followers of Christ. Heck, two of the three guys I had as my groomsmen were credobaptists, and the third one was a Presbyterian minister so he didn’t stand a chance to be anything other than a pedo (sorry Cam, but it’s true). All in all, I admire credobaptism and many of the credobaptists that believe it. We have much more in common that in conflict.

So that’s my list!

I hope if you came to this as a pedobaptist who thinks that credobaptism position has no good arguments, that you have been given a few things to chew over to at least earn your respect for the position.

If you came to this as a credobaptist, you might be filled with renewed confidence in your position and instead be wanting to ask me the question that a friend did recently: “If you have so many good things to say about credobaptism then why are you opting for infant baptism?”

That’s a great question and the answer is in the fact that although this is a list of the things I really like about credobaptism, I could have also written a listen of the things I don’t like about credobaptism or a list of all the things I do like about pedobaptism. I can acknowledge valid and weighty arguments, without having to feel they are enough to win me over. I do think there are weaknesses with the credobaptist position. I even think there are weaknesses with a few of the points I have made in this blog post. But there are also weaknesses in the pedobaptist position. I guess I just feel at the end of the day, pedobaptism has stronger strengths and less weaknesses. But the exploration of that are for a different article.

(edit: I have now written that article explaining my defense of pedobaptism in detail. You can read it HERE)

If you are a credobaptist and you feel I have poorly or unfairly represented the arguments in this article, please do tell me in the comments below. I do not want to be accused of creating a “straw man” for my own benefit.

My main challenge is for all of us to do what I have done here with the ideas that you disagree with, but still respect. Acknowledge their good points. Defend them even! And may we all try to be exceedingly patient and charitable with each other.”

 

(2457)

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April 21 2015

To ISIS with love

  

ISIS has said to Christians:

“We tell Christians everywhere that the Islamic State will spread, God willing. It will reach you even if you are in fortresses. Those who embrace Islam or jizya will be safe. But those who refuse… will have nothing from us but the edge of the sword. The men will be killed, the women and children enslaved, and the money seized. That is Allah and the prophet’s judgment.”

In return we say:

“We tell ISIS everywhere that the gospel of love and forgiveness will spread, God willing. It will reach you even if you are in fortresses. Those who embrace this gospel will be safe. But those who refuse will have nothing from us but our love. The men will be blessed with prayers for God’s mercy, as will the women and children, and we will spend the money necessary to send more missionaries to share this gospel with you. That is Yahweh and Jesus’ way.”


(1423)

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March 29 2015

Palm Sunday & the Unexpected King

donkey

Today is Palm Sunday. It’s a day we remember the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. It’s a relatively small and seemingly insignificant story in the Bible, so why do we stop to remember it? Well, have a read of the text from John’s gospel below and see what’s happening…

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!”, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, “Blessed is the king of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

(John 12:12-16)

So, a fairly simple story. Jesus is coming to Jerusalem, lots of people get all excited, calling him the king and shaking palm branches (hence, “Palm Sunday”), and Jesus gets on a donkey and rides into town. In verse 16 it says, “At first his disciples did not understand all this.”  Well, at first, you also might not understand all this either. Here are a few thoughts to help you see the significance of this event.

“Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem”

This line has two major points of significance. Firstly, from Jesus’ perspective. From other parts of the gospels we learn that Jesus had been planning to go to Jerusalem for a while and his purpose was to die. Jerusalem was (and is) the central city of all Judaism. It was where all the powerful leaders were. Jesus’ claim to be the prophesied king of God’s kingdom and the Son of God, was not that big a deal as long as he stayed to the little country towns in Israel. But if he went to Jerusalem that was like walking into the lion’s den. And Jesus knew it. So did his disciples. There is a key moment in Jesus’ ministry when he turns to head towards Jerusalem and his disciples are shocked and scared, but Jesus very clearly explains his reasoning for going. Read Mark 10:32-34…

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

Jesus was going to Jerusalem in order to be captured. He was going there to die. He was going there to be resurrected. He was going there to bring about the first Easter.

Now, this was Jesus’ perspective. But the crowds who greeted Jesus had a different idea.

From their perspective, Jesus coming to Jerusalem was him finally putting his money where his mouth was. He had been talking about the kingdom of God and how he was the prophesied “Son of Man” from Daniel 7, and it was well known that he was a prophet and a miracle-worker and even called the Son of God. Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the promised king who would establish God’s kingdom, destroy the Roman Empire and allow the Jews to rule the world in prosperity and harmony with God forever! But until he came to Jerusalem, all his talk of being a king was just talk. It would be like if someone said, “I am the rightful Prime Minister of Australia!” but they always stayed in Coober Pedy and never went to Canberra.

From the people’s perspective, Jesus coming to Jerusalem was his triumphant entry where he was truly saying “I am king! And now I will take over!”

That’s why they were waving palm branches like it was a ticker tape parade and cheering battle cries: “Hosanna!”, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, “Blessed is the king of Israel!” The word “Hosanna” means “Lord, save us” and it shows the crowd was basically quoting a couple of verses from Psalm 118…

“Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you.” (Psalm 118:25-26)

They saw Jesus’ arrival as a king coming to assume his throne. Jesus saw his arrival as a dead man walking coming to be executed. Two very different perspectives.

“Jesus found a young donkey”

Why did Jesus enter Jerusalem on a young donkey? Was it because he was tired of walking and donkeys were easier to find than a horse and chariot? Well, the text doesn’t suggest that. In Matthew’s account of the story it gives even more detail about how they got the donkey. Jesus says to his disciples before they get to Jerusalem: Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 

It seems the donkey is something very, very deliberate for Jesus. So what is he trying to say? Well, both accounts of this story tell us that Jesus is using the donkey so that he would fulfil a prophecy made by the prophet Zechariah hundreds of years earlier.

In Zechariah 9:9-11, God spoke through the prophet to give a picture of what it would be like when his promised king would come to Zion (or Jerusalem).

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.”

The picture is definitely of a king. He is righteous and victorious. His rule will extend to the ends of the earth. And he will bring peace to all the nations of the world and freedom from those imprisoned. This is definitely a king. But it is an unexpected king.

His righteousness and victory doesn’t appear as strength or brute power. He comes lowly and riding on a young donkey. You can’t go to battle on a donkey! You can’t destroy the Roman Empire on a donkey! You can’t fight your way to the throne, destroying all your enemies in your way, and claim your rightful role as king of Jerusalem, if your warhorse is a donkey!

But that is the unexpected king. He takes away all chariots and warhorses and battle bows. He is the one who proclaims peace to the nations, not war.

Now, this act of weakness and lowliness, doesn’t mean he will not be victorious in establishing his rule. As the prophecy says, his rule will extend from seas to sea, and his lowliness does not jeopardise that one bit. In fact, his lowliness will be the very means by which his kingdom is established, peace is brought to the world and the prisoners are set free from the waterless pit.

You see that alluded to in verse 11 of the prophecy. It is because of the “blood of the covenant” that all this will happen. If you want to explore deeper as to what that phrase means, have a read of another blog I wrote on this topic HERE. To summarise though, it is pointing to the atoning sacrifice that was made on behalf of the people that established their relationship with God in the Old Testament (the story is found in Exodus 24:4-8).

For those that know the Easter story, they will remember that on the night before Jesus was crucified, he told his disciples that his own death would be the new “blood of the covenant”. Jesus saw his death as the ultimate atoning sacrifice that would free people from the pit, bring peace to the world and establish an everlasting relationship between God and all those who trusted in it.

That is why he comes lowly and riding on a donkey. That is why Jesus came to Jerusalem at all! He came to die. But not just to die. He came to die as an atoning sacrifice for people. Even his enemies. That’s why he doesn’t come on a warhorse. He doesn’t want to destroy his enemies. He wants to rescue them and embrace them into God’s kingdom. He wants to die on their behalf. He wants to save them.

The crowds were right.

So the crowds were right! They were right to praise Jesus as king – for that is who he is. They were right to say “Hosanna!” which means “Lord, save us” – for that is what he came to do. They were right to expect that he had come to Jerusalem to establish God’s kingdom and reconcile people to God. But they were wrong in how they expected he would do it.

The story finishes with the disciples being confused: “At first his disciples did not understand all this.” But then it tells us that, like us, they eventually understood what was going on: “Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.” When it says Jesus was “glorified” it is referring to Jesus’ death and resurrection (see John 12:23 & 17:1).

At first, the disciples were confused by what was going on. There was a juxtaposition. Jesus was the king, but he came to Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah, but he talked about dying. How did it all fit together? Well, after Jesus was glorified in his death and resurrection, then they realised that “these things had been written about him”. It was only after Easter that they remembered the prophesy of Zechariah and the puzzle pieces fit together.

Fortunately, we live in the time after Jesus has been glorified. And every Easter we can remember the great work on the cross he did to die for sinners like you and me.

For today, let us grab our palm branches and praise the king. Not having a false expectation of him establishing his rule through aggression and force, but seeing the mission from Jesus’ perspective, pointing to the cross as the great moment that reconciled God and people.

Let us remember that our king came lowly, riding on a donkey, and join in the cry, “Hosanna!

(1968)

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February 21 2015

Baptism & the Sinner’s Prayer

river-baptisms-112

As some of you may know, I have been reflecting on baptism for a while now, especially considering the issue about whether or not to baptise my daughter who is due in June. You can read my previous blog on why I am thinking about this issue HERE.

As I’ve been reading, researching and reflecting on the appropriateness of infant baptism, I have started with a simple question… What is baptism? When Jesus said to his followers who were mostly simple fishermen, “Go, make disciples and baptise them” (Matthew 28:19) they understood what he meant. So in my research, I didn’t want the super theological, highly complex, only can be understood if you have a Masters Degree of Divinity, understanding. I wanted the simple fisherman’s version. When they went out and said to someone, “Hey! You should become a disciple of Jesus and get baptised!”, when the other person said, “Why should I get baptised? What’s that about?”, I wanted to know how they would answer.

How would YOU answer?

 

BAPTISM THEN

One thing I’ve noticed is that for the first Christians, baptism was part and parcel of becoming a Christian. Right at the beginning of the Church’s mission to the world, after the first ever public evangelistic sermon, those that wanted to respond to Jesus asked the very simple question…

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:37-41)

They asked, “What shall we do?”, and Peter answered “Repent and be baptised.”  And that’s what they did. It was fairly simple.

This is the pattern all the way through the Book of Acts as well:

When they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women.
(Acts 8:12)

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?”
(Acts 8:36)

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised.
(Acts 9:18)

The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home.
(Acts 16:14-15)

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptised.
(Acts 16:29-33)

Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptised.
(Acts 18:8)

‘And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’
(Acts 22:16)

baptism-photoNow, it may seem (to those who know the different sides of the debate) that I am trying to put forward the case for credobaptism or “believer baptism”, but I’m not. I’m simply showing how, for the early Church, baptism was the way people responded to Jesus. What happened in their heart? God helped them believe the message. What happened in their mind? They repented from their sin and put their trust in Jesus. And what did they do with their body? They got baptised.

Baptism is so intimately connected with the response of believing and repenting that Paul recalls in his own story, how Ananais had said to him, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16) The act of baptism, the miracle of being forgiven (having your sins washed away) and the response of calling on Jesus’ name are all in the one package. This is why Peter in his first epistle, says that we are saved through the waters of baptism (1 Peter 3:21). This passage use to confuse me, but he goes on to describe baptism as “not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.” Baptism was the handshake that sealed the deal. It was the signature that signed the contract. It was the step over the line in the sand. It was the pledge of a clear conscience towards God.

Now, to be very clear, the Bible never says that baptism itself is what saves us or forgives us of sin. That would be to commit the mistake that the Catholic Church sadly has fallen into (I make mention of this in my previous blog on baptism). Even after Peter’s potentially confusing statement about being saved through baptism, he clarifies that it is actually “the resurrection of Jesus Christ” that saves you (1 Peter 3:21). It is Jesus that saves us, through his work not ours. We don’t even prompt Jesus to save us by our faith. As shown in many of the episodes in Acts, it is God who opens people’s heart to respond in faith. Our faith is a gift, so that our salvation is from God and by God from start to finish. As Paul writes so succinctly in Ephesians 2:8-9, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this faith is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

So baptism doesn’t have any magical saving powers, but it is still tied very intimately to our response and to God’s salvation. They are all wrapped up together. Can you be saved without baptism? Of course! Think about the thief on the cross (Luke 23:38-43). But what should we do to respond to Jesus? Repent and be baptised. Simple as that.

 

BAPTISM TODAY

The sad thing I see today is that much of the church seems to have lost this simple approach to baptism. Both sides of the baptism debate have made it more complex than it needs to be. Pedobaptists churches can sometimes turn baptism into a highly complex, theological statement about the seal of God’s promises and the sign of the new covenant. I fear, they can sort of kill it with theology at times, like a joke that stops being funny after you have explained it in too much detail.

Credobaptists churches on the other hand, should be all for a simple “believe and be baptised” approach, but many of them can make it overcomplicated as well. Because they are committed to not baptising children from Christian homes unless they are really believers, they have developed systems for establishing this with supposed certainty. Many make people partake in several week-long baptism courses which you have to register for and in some churches they get you to wait until Easter when they do a mass baptism of lots of converts. In most churches, baptism is also connected with the idea of becoming a “member” of that particular church and so it begins to take on even more complexity. If you’re thinking about becoming baptised, you might be encouraged to wait until an appropriate date on which you can invite your friends and family along. It gets put off to an available Sunday service that isn’t too busy. And then there’s your testimony. Of course, you have to give a public testimony explaining how you came to trust in Jesus. And because of this, help in how to write a clear testimony is often worked into a baptism course, and people are given time to feel comfortable with standing up in front of a crowd and sharing their story. I know of Christians who have put off their baptism indefinitely, purely due to their fear of public speaking.

Where did it go so wrong? When did we lose the simplicity? When did baptism turn into such an event? In the New Testament, baptism is like a shotgun wedding. “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?” the Ethiopian in Acts 8 says when he believes in Jesus. Nowadays, it can be more like a big ceremony, that looks like a wedding but the couple made their marriage vows a month or two earlier. People get baptised weeks, months or even decades after they repented and believed in Jesus. I think it’s weird. I think it’s sad. I think we’ve missed the point of baptism. It’s not just that it loses the excitement of the moment of conversion. It also loses the connection with the act of conversion itself. Remember, the passages from Acts? Conversion and baptism were part of the same package. You repented and were baptised. At the same time. On the same day.

This is maybe why we get so confused about what baptism is and how we should administer it. We’ve turned it into something with more complexity, more theology, more process and more red tape than it ever was meant to have. Now, I’m not saying that we should take it lightly or encourage people to do it willy nilly. But we don’t encourage people to repent and believe lightly either. Jesus tells us that we must count the cost of being a disciple (Luke 14:25-33) and he also warns us not to be one of those people who respond to the gospel with superficial enthusiasm, but who dump it all when times get tough (Matthew 13:20-21). Becoming a disciple of Jesus is huge. It is giving up your autonomy and your sin and your allegiance to anyone or anything other than Christ. It should not be done for foolish or selfish reasons. Like wedding vows, becoming a disciple of Jesus is a life-long commitment that should be entered into “reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God” (“The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony” from “The Book of Common Prayer”).

Having said this, the call to repent and believe in Jesus is an immediate call. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.” We are all called to respond to Jesus now. Not to wait or put it off. True, we must count the cost, but count the cost now. The warnings are generally not about responding to God too quickly, but too slowly. Like the man in the story Jesus told in Luke 12:16-21, who stored up his wealth and put off being rich towards God, and then one night God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” We are told to respond now. And baptism, I think, was meant to be part of that response.

 

THE SINNER’S PRAYER

The role baptism had in the response of a brand new believer, has today been replaced in part by what’s known as the “Sinner’s Prayer”. The “Sinner’s Prayer” is a simple prayer that acknowledges our sin, asks Jesus for forgiveness and accepts Jesus as your Lord. There are no strict formulaic words to the “Sinner’s Prayer”, but at the end of every evangelistic tract you’ll find one. If you’ve ever been to a big evangelistic rally or event and they ask people to come to the front if they want to become a Christian, the prayer they get everyone to say is a version of the Sinner’s Prayer”. It is a decisive, verbal prayer of repentance and commitment. It is quite useful in evangelism because it has a beginning and it has an end, so you can say to people who have prayed it (if they truly meant it) that they are now saved and that they are now part of God’s family.

Sinners-Prayer-card_f_improf_629x495Some Christians are strongly against the idea of the “Sinner’s Prayer” (like Paul Washer who brings up some great points in this VIDEO). Mainly, their criticisms are about people’s confidence in their salvation being based on the prayer they said once, rather than the daily reliance on the work of Christ. I agree that the “Sinner’s Prayer” has a danger of being treated like a magical spell that once said with conviction, compels God to forgive you and make you born again. But I don’t think it has to be that way. When I repented and believed at age 16, it was through saying the “Sinner’s Prayer” around a kitchen table with some Christian friends who had shared the gospel with me. I can’t really remember all the words I said, but it was a clear moment to that reminded me that I had crossed the line and given my life to Jesus. Now I am under no illusion that it was the “Sinner’s Prayer” that saved me. It was Jesus who saved me. And like Lydia in Acts 16:14, I know that God was the one who opened my heart to accept the gospel, without any prompting from me. In fact, it was that opening of my heart that prompted me to want to say the “Sinner’s Prayer”.

Some people critique the “Sinner’s Prayer” because they say it is unbiblical. Nowhere in the bible do we see people reciting a particular prayer in their moment of coming to faith. When the men came to Peter and asked, “What must we do?”, Peter didn’t say, “Bow your head and repeat this prayer after me, line by line.” No, he said, “Repent and be baptised!” Now, although that is true, I do think there is biblical precedent for the idea of a prayer being the physical act that shows repentance. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a parable about a Tax Collector who beats his breast and says, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ and then goes home justified before God. Surely, that is as close to the “Sinner’s Prayer” as you can get. Also, in Romans 10:9-13, Paul writes: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This “calling on the name of the Lord” has been maybe made a bit too formulaic in the “Sinner’s Prayer” but it seems their is definitely biblical for encouraging people to talk to God as part of the mark of their repentance.

The thing I think is unfortunate about the “Sinner’s Prayer” is that it seems to have replaced the role of baptism. Today, if you were asked by a friend you have shared the gospel with, “What must I do?”, would you answer with “repent and be baptised” or the “Sinner’s Prayer”? Part of the role of baptism I think was to give the convert a clear and decisive moment in time when they make the decision to become a disciple of Jesus. In the act of going into the water, they were identifying themself with Jesus and their acceptance of the gospel message. Today, we use the “Sinner’s Prayer” functionally in the same way, and baptism is left as this strange ritual that we do a long time afterwards, or for some, we never get around to doing at all!

 

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

I think for us to regain the purpose for baptism that is pictured in the Bible, I have a few thoughts:

  • Include baptism in our evangelistic call.
    • It may seem weird, but when we encourage our non-Christian friends and family to turn to Christ, I think we should encourage them to be baptised as part of that call. If we are worried that they would be turned off by such a tactile and public display of commitment, then maybe we don’t trust that God would be at work in their hearts. God is the one that opens people’s eyes and hearts to the beauty of the gospel. Maybe, when God does that, the idea of baptism wouldn’t be such a weird idea.
  • At evangelistic events and Youth Rallies, there should not be an alter call without baptisms.
    • altar-call1Either be ready to do baptisms when you want people to turn to Christ, or, probably more appropriately, don’t do alter calls. I asked one friend why he thought they thought they didn’t do baptisms at Youth Rally evangelistic events, he said it was because they expected that some kids were only responding due to the hype of the moment, and so they shouldn’t get baptised just in case it wasn’t genuine. If that is the case then why do an alter call? Why do the “Sinner’s Prayer”? What assurance can you give the new believer if you doubt that they truly are a new believer?
    • Some also think it’s simply impractical to call people to be baptised at such a large event, but that issue didn’t faze the early Church. When Peter told his hearers to “Repent and be baptised”, it goes on to say, “Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:41) Can we even fathom an evangelistic event where thousands of people respond to the gospel and do so by being baptised? I’m not saying if we don’t have baptisms, the converts aren’t real Christians. It’s just that when baptism is left out, I feel it loses its meaning and intended purpose.
  • Stop putting up so many barriers to baptism.
    • This is a controversial one, but hear me out. I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about who gets baptise and I even think we should refuse baptism to anyone who is doing it without “counting the cost” or wanting it for non-gospel reasons. But some churches have drowned the process of baptism with process and paperwork. There is no biblical reason why baptism has to be done at church. There is no biblical reason why it has to wait for Sunday. There is no biblical reason why it has to be done by an ordained minister.
    • I’m not saying that it’s wrong to wait to do it if you want to have family and friends present. There can be something very special about that. But it should be easy. It should be a natural response to Jesus, and pretty much, whoever wants to repent and be baptised should be allowed to. Think about the “Sinner’s Prayer”. If a friend told you they want to be saved and asked if you could pray with them, would you get them to do a “Sinner’s Prayer” course? Would they have to do it at a Sunday Service after they shared their testimony? Would you call the minister to do it for you? I really hope not! Sure you might ask them some “counting the cost” type questions to make sure they understood what it meant, but once you were fairly convinced that their desire to respond to the gospel was genuine, you would probably pray with them there and then! I think we should do baptism in the same way. Like the enthusiastic Ethiopian in Acts 8:36, we should encourage people to say, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?”
  • Get baptised!
    • This last point is for those Christians who have never been baptised. Get baptised! There are only two rituals that Jesus commands Christians to do – partaking in the Breaking of Bread and baptism. If you have never gotten around to getting baptised, go and get it done. Speak to you minister today, talk to a Christian friend. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. You can do it at church, or at the beach, or in a lake, or in your bathtub! It is sad that it is so far removed from your initial act of repentance and conversion, but the truth of the symbolic act is still as true today as it would have been if you had done it then. Getting baptised is a wonderful physical response to Jesus, and it is something that he commands, so doing it shows everyone your submission to and love for the Lord.

 

BAPTISM & CHRISTIAN KIDS

Now, all this talk about baptism being part and parcel with our response to Jesus, doesn’t necessarily answer the question about what Christian parents should do with their kids. A credobaptist may have read this blog and be saying, “It’s obvious! The call is to repent and then get baptised! Not to baptise and then hope they repent!” But I don’t think it’s that easy.

Child-with-Bible1As I have already mentioned, many credobaptist churches turn the process of baptism into a convoluted series of hoops that you have to jump through to prove that you are really truly genuine in your repentance. But the child born into a Christian family has a unique experience. They are not being called to convert, they are not being called to repent. They are (hopefully) being brought up with the truths of the gospel. They don’t come to respond to Jesus. They’ve been taught to respond to Jesus right from the beginning. Ideally, they have grown up knowing and believing the gospel and relating to Jesus as their Lord and God as their Heavenly Father.

The question remains, if this is their experience and they have no conversion “moment”, then when should they be baptised? Some credobaptists might argue that kids should be encouraged to get to a time when they “own” their faith and publicly profess themselves to be a Christian, and that that is the appropriate time for them to be baptised, but I don’t see any clear biblical basis for that as much as I don’t see any clear biblical example of infant baptism. The biblical model is that, for first time believers, they should repent and be baptised. For those that are brought up in a family that has already repented, there really is no clear biblical model. I have questions and concerns about infant baptism, but I think I have more of a problem with the uniquely credobaptist “ownership of faith” baptism.

This blog isn’t my final thought on baptism. In fact, it is really just the starting point. Repentance and baptism are supposed to go hand in hand. That I am clear on. Maybe I should ditch the terms “pedobaptist” and “credobaptist” and call myself “repentobaptist”. In any case, I will continue thinking about how this starting point relates to what I should do with my daughter that is due in June. Getting this initial understanding about the place of baptism is for now, enough for me to chew on.

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January 3 2015

Why worry about baptism?

WHY WORRY

Lately, I have been thinking lots about baptism. I am talking to people, posting thoughts on facebook, listening to talks and reading a really helpful book called, “Baptism: Three Views“. My aim is to reach a biblically faithful understanding of baptism and come to some conclusion as to which “camp” I sit in. There are many different understandings of baptism and people have debated it for centuries, but I am only considering three basic views – “pedo-baptism” (the idea that it’s appropriate to baptise children of Christian parents), “credo-baptism” (the idea that only professing Christians should be baptised) and “inbetweedo-baptism” (not a real term, but represents the view that either position is ok and there does not need to be uniformity between Christians on the issue).

But as the title of this blog asks… why worry about baptism? Why go to such lengths to think through an issue that may not be resolvable and is definitely not core to the gospel? Well, firstly I do want to acknowledge that I do think this is not a core gospel issue. Baptism is not necessary for salvation, a point that is most clearly shown by the story in Acts 10:43-48 where people respond to the call to believe in Jesus for forgiveness, are born again and given the Holy Spirit, and after all that are baptised. Only Jesus saves us and he does so when we put our faith in him, which is why Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Baptism doesn’t save us, so why worry about it?

great_commissionWell, baptism might not be necessary for salvation, but it is connected with salvation. All the views of baptism that I respect (namely the three that I mentioned above) acknowledge that baptism is an important ritual that Jesus commanded his disciples to perform as they spread the message of the gospel and made disciples. The final words of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s gospel record this command: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Any Christian that takes seriously Jesus’ authority and his command for us to make disciples and spread his teaching, has to engage with what he means when he commands us to “baptise”.

First and foremost, it must challenge all Christians to get baptised themselves. There may be much debate about whether or not we should baptise our kids, but if you are an un-baptised Christian, then the call and biblical expectation to get baptised is a no-brainer. I understand some Christians may want to think through exactly what it all means, or they may be unsure about the mode of baptism (dunk or pour), or they want to make the event something their friends and family can come to, but those concerns should not drag on too long. We should rather have the enthusiasm of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:36, who after comprehending the gospel, said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?” To put it off indefinitely or to simply ignore it, is I think, dishonouring to the beautiful ritual that baptism is supposed to be. At best it is a sign of being ignorant of the importance Scripture puts on it, and at worst it is an act of willing disobedience to the clear command of Jesus. So, if you haven’t done it and you’re a follower of Jesus, then get your bathers and get on with it!


MY JOURNEY WITH BAPTISM

So baptism is important to think about for all Christians, but why am I particularly engaging with this issue now? Well, the answer is in the blog I wrote before this one. I have a baby on the way. And so, I feel I need to come to some conclusion as to whether or not God wants me to get my child baptised. One thing I have come to realise is, I can’t do nothing. I can’t sit on the fence indefinitely. Basically, if I think about it for 20 years and then decide I believe that the pedobaptist view is correct, it’s a bit too late. It’s like someone driving towards a cliff as they are asking themselves “To be or not to be”. Once they hit the cliff, they have decided “not to be” whether they are ready for it or not! In the end, I do think there is some merit to the case for pedobaptism and so I think I should consider it before my child is too old and I have accepted the “credobaptist” position by default!

Even though my child’s impending birthday does create a sense of urgency (if you can call 6 months “urgent”), even before I was married I was interested in understanding baptism. You see, I was brought up in a Catholic family and so was baptised as an infant myself. For most of my childhood I didn’t contemplate my own baptism, but it did effect the way I understood Christianity. I was always taught that my baptism was like my ticket into heaven, and because of it, I was a child of God.

Baptism.146174950_stdAs opposed to what I now know the bible teaches, the Catholic Church’s position is that God uses the actual act of baptism to save us. The Catholic Catechism teaches: Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.” 

Due to this teaching, I always just presumed I had a relationship with God and so I did not engage with the message of the gospel or the call to put my trust in Jesus for my forgiveness. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I started to question this idea. Despite being told I was right with God, I didn’t feel it. It didn’t ring true to my experience.

At aged 16, I finally heard the message that I could be freed from my sin and received this rebirth as a child of God, not through my baptism, but through trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection. I heard this message through a pentecostal family, who were very much “credobaptists”. The daughter, who I was dating at the time, even told me how she accepted Jesus as her Lord and Saviour and was baptised at the young age of 5!

After becoming a Christian I developed a real disgust with the idea of infant baptism. After all, it was my infant baptism that lied to me that I was already right with God and prevented me from seeking the truth about the gospel. At least, that’s how I felt. I came to think that infant baptism was the primary thing wrong with the Catholic Church and was the cause of most of their problems. Also, I had such a wonderful example of “believer” baptism in this pentecostal family’s testimony and now, my own experience.

I would have happily remained a devout credobaptist if it wasn’t for the Christian Union. If you haven’t heard of them, they are a wonderful evangelical group that meets on University campuses around Australia, teaching, evangelising, training and mentoring students. It was through the Christian Union (or CU as we called it) that I really started to delve into studying the Bible. The pentecostal church I had started going to was loving and full of enthusiasm, but they were not good at bible teaching. It was the CU that helped me study the bible, write bible studies, ask questions, seek answers, engage in robust theological discussion and get a fuller and clearer understanding of the gospel.

The CU (and its parent organisation, AFES) is made up of lots of denominations, but clearly there was a dominance of Anglican and Presbyterian churches. It was through the CU that I started attending Bundoora Presbyterian Church (a church I have now been going to for around 14 years). It was also through the CU that I heard the crazy idea that some Christians who knew the gospel and studied the bible, also believed that you could baptise infants!

You can image how shocked I was. For nearly 5 years I had believed that infant baptism was the biggest poison to true Christianity. I was thoroughly convinced that no valid biblical argument could be made for pedobaptism, but, not wanting to be stubborn in my beliefs, I was willing to be swayed. I looked for a solid biblical article that would explain the position to me, and low and behold… I found one! I am very sad to report I can’t supply a copy of this article, but I can testify to it’s arguments being solid and biblically based. It didn’t completely convince me, but it did show me that there was more to this debate than just what I had experienced in my childhood and conversion.

fenceFrom that point on, I was pretty much “on the fence” on the issue. Over the years I have done some thinking and discussing on the issue, but nothing that would compel me to pick a side. I would hear one argument and find it robust and convincing, but then I would hear a valid rebuttle and a presentation of the opposing view that was also robust and convincing.

As I said earlier, with a child on the way I feel I should once again pick up this issue and see if I can come to any settled position. Although I am an active member in my local presbyterian church, I feel no specific loyalty to agree with its position on this matter. My minister, Neil Chambers, is wise and very biblical, keeping our church focussed on the core issues of the gospel and not forcing people to agree with the official presbyterian position on an issue is not clear in Scripture. He definitely is a pedobaptist, but he would not expect I would have to agree with that position in order to be a member or be involved in church ministry. His focus has always be that Christian parents raise their children to love Jesus, whether they baptise them or not.

So, here I am, still on the fence. After years of reading and discussing, I feel I am getting a good grasp on both sides of the debate. In fact, if you are fully convinced of either position, I reckon I could happily and passionately argue for the opposing view. This doesn’t help me in my goal to reach some conclusion myself, but it does give me a respect for both sides, a humility when it comes to these issues, and an acknowledgement that neither side is “clearly” wrong or wildly unbiblical.

Now, I haven’t actually gone into the arguments for either position in this blog. This is partly because I am still reading the book “Baptism: Three Views” and wanting to solidify my thoughts a bit more. I will hopefully write another blog down the track to reveal and explain which position I have decided upon, when (or if) I eventually reach a decision. I just thought I’d write this blog to explain a bit of my journey so far and why I find it personally very stimulating, engaging and interesting to think about the issue of baptism.

To aid my journey, please feel free to do the following, either in the comments on this blog, or in an email to me personally:

  1. Share your own journey and questions relating to this issue.
  2. Pass on any articles, sermons or thoughts that you find explain either position well.
  3. Catch up with me to ask your own questions or to discuss or debate the topic with me. I’d love that!

 

Please also pray for me. This issue may be complex and both sides may have valid arguments, but I do want to be faithful to Scripture and the commands of Jesus, in how I think about this issue. At the same time, I don’t want to give this issue more time than I should. As my brother Tony advised me, I believe with the first child your primary thought will be “I must not drop you” until you relax. Just enjoy those early days.’ Good counsel.

So, why worry about baptism? Well, I don’t plan to worry too much. But I am looking forward to the journey. 

In the meantime, if you want a laugh, have a read of a funny post I wrote on this topic last year…

10 alternatives to “credobaptism” & “paedobaptism”

 

 

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November 11 2014

God should NOT be number #1 on your list

Person Marking in a Checkbox 5722106

 

Is God number #1 in your life? Does God get first priority? Do you seek to worship God, serve God and love God before you get on with the rest of your life?

calculatorThese can be challenging questions. In fact, it was questions like these that got me thinking about God twenty years ago. I had always believed that God existed, but I realised that God had always been a small part of my life. I treated him like a calculator. I always had my calculator handy. I didn’t want to live life without a calculator. But when did I reach in my pocket and take engage with my calculator? Well, only when I had a problem to solve. I treated God in the same way. I had no issue believing God existed, but I didn’t really engage with God unless I was thinking about the meaning of life, or if I would ever get a girlfriend, or if I would be caught for doing something naughty. God was convenient, but no a big part of my life.

I came to see that if my life was a movie, I was the star and God was just an extra. The good thing was, as soon as I came to see that, I knew instinctively that that was wrong. If I believed in God at all (which I did) then he couldn’t simply be a bit part. He was too big for that. He was God! When it came to the meaning of life, God either didn’t exist at all or else he had to have everything to do with it!

So began a spiritual journey for me that would lead me to hear the gospel about Jesus and what he had done on the cross to reconcile me to God. At aged 16, I gave up my crown and let God take his rightful place as #1 in my life. That is, in very simplistic terms, what it means to repent and become a Christian. We say sorry for trying to rule our own life, we thank Jesus for dying for our sins so we can be forgiven, and we treat God as he deserves and we commit to following Jesus as “Christ” – God’s appointed king.

When I first became a Christian, this meant that on my list of priorities, God moved right up the top of the list. First came God, then came my family and friends, then everything else. This way of thinking, still challenges me and I hope it challenges you as well. As you get older and your life is filled with many more responsibilities, you have to keep considering your priorities. It is very difficult to assess whether God is #1 in your life. I work 40 hours a week, and only do around 6-8 hours of God-focussed stuff a week. Does that mean my job is more important to me than God? I only give away about a quarter of my wage to charities and gospel ministries. Does that mean I serve money more than God? I watch more YouTube than pray, I eat more often than I read the bible and I sleep for longer than I serve others. I only go to church one day a week and that for only a couple of hours! Does that mean that I worship myself for the other 166 hours a week? Well, of course not. In fact, I have never really thought like that. Fortunately, back when I was still a teenager and a baby Christian, I went to a youth event where I heard a speaker challenge that whole idea.

God should NOT be #1 in your life. God should not be at the top of the list of your priorities.

God is not #1 on the list…

God IS the list.

In Mark 12:28-34, when Jesus was asked by an Old Testament scholar about which was the most important commandment of all, the question was about what was #1 in the long list of rules that God had given in the law. Jesus blew that way of thinking out of the water with his answer. He pointed the man to the Old Testament law book Deuteronomy and quotes chapter 6, verse 4 and 5. These verses weren’t one of the laws. They were the premise behind all of the laws. This is what Jesus said to the man’s question:

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Jesus says the most important thing we must do is love Yahweh (the “Lord”) with everything you have – your heart, soul, mind and strength. Everything! God shouldn’t just be our #1 priority. If we are to follow Jesus’ words then God must be the one thing that ALL of our priorities are shaped by. We must love God with every part of our life. That means that every dollar I spend is God’s money, every hour I work I am doing ministry. Worship is not just something I do on a Sunday. Every category on my list is a form of worship. God is not #1 on my list, he is the paper that the list is written on. He is the pen that writes what goes on the list and what stays off it. God IS the list.

dv1395020The danger with talking about God as your #1 priority, is that you can fool yourself into believing that he has nothing to do with your #2 priority or #3 priority. That sort of Christian can go to church, give money to charity, even read his bible and pray or be involved in ministry, and yet cheat on his wife on the side. Or maybe it’s not so dramatic. Maybe he just likes to play computer games and resents his wife and children for invading that little bit of space that is just his own.

For a Christian, there is not time that is “just our own”. There is not one cent in our bank account, not one second of our day, not one breath in our lungs that is not God’s. We are completely his. As Paul says, You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

We must not compartmentalise our Christian lives. God is not simply the most important one of our various priorities. He is not simply the one we attend to first, before going off to engage in our other pursuits. We should love God with everything we have. He is not just #1. He is #1 to infinity.

Or, as God himself puts it in the very last chapter in the bible: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

He IS the list.

So reflect on this… Where is God in your life? Is he on the list at all? Or do you treat him like a calculator or an extra in the movie where you are the star?

Maybe you need to flip the whole thing around. That what the word “repent” actually means. Stop ignoring God and stop feeling guilty that God should have a bigger role in your life. Don’t just “prioritise” God. Give him him everything. Give him the crown. Give him your heart, soul, mind and strength. Give him the pen and the paper and let him be more than just #1 in your life. Let him be your life.

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